[This Commentary originally appeared in the June 8, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
Curse the foppish Duke whose vanity prevented him for enduring soiled shirts! His inability to control his sloppy eating habits has forever vexed modern day men. The nobleman’s pride forces a vestigial tradition upon us from which we have no escape.
I don’t know who it was – maybe the Earl of Sandwich’s brother-in-law – but the surreal waters of the Age of Discovery caused some crazy English lord to stuff a napkin under his collar. I suppose royalty exhibited a rather lavish behavior back then. Naturally, that particular napkin must have been manufactured from some ostentatiously colored silk rather than the modest white which today we have become accustomed to.
Unfortunately, in the Renaissance spirit of one-upmanship, a single unique event led to several lords a leapin’ to make their own fashion statement. So, what began as a practical idea soon turned into a silly contest: Nobility judging itself by the dazzling spectacle of its napkins.
Eventually, however, Victoria became the Queen and color left life. Black became the color of ties and Henry Ford’s dream machine. The staid life was an easy one – you could choose any color you want, as long as you chose black.
But, as will all things, Victoria passed on and from her strict ashes came Chevrolet and (hush!) color. Color crept into everyday life during the lively splash of the flappers’ roaring twenties. Initially a faded shadow of its real self, the depression kept the tone muted.
Suddenly, on a cold winter’s day in warm southern California, someone got the bright idea of Technicolor. The world would never be the same. As the sights of brilliant shades spread, Americans shed their last remaining rags of peasant Europe and turned their plowshares into Swatches.
Ties evolved from flash to primness to insignia. Your coat of arms hung from your neck. The colors remained, however, unobtrusively solid and dark, with only an occasional series of alternating stripes representing the extent of daringness.
The pendulum swung full throttle in the late sixties and ties returned to the psychedelic silliness of Elizabethan times – wide and vibrant and really ugly. Things settled down by the end of the seventies and dark (albeit sometimes striped) ties became the norm once again.
But the cultural revolution lay dormant, not extinct. The generation of Beatlemania saw ties as an innocuous means of making a statement. The statement, though, spoke not of anti-establishment. Quite the contrary, to strike out against the tide meant empowerment. Only those of supreme confidence and fortitude would venture out with a light-colored tie.
Thus, the Lord created the Yellow Power Tie.
Investment bankers embraced it as the sign of success. The Wall Street Journal ballyhooed it. Everyone began wearing it.
I remember that article in The Wall Street Journal. On that day, I vowed never to wear my yellow tie again. I had worn it for the color, not for the power. Indeed, it was five years before I donned that yellow tie again – and only because of extenuating circumstances.
And therein lies our story…
I’ve always had a favorite tie. Of course, the choice changed regularly. At times, I shunned a once preferred tie because the newspaper commanded everyone to wear it. (Like the yellow tie, my mauve tie collected dust for that reason.) More often than not, though, I retired the select accruement on account of lunch.
Whether oil and vinegar dressing or slippery clam sauce, an errant drop would find itself a path to the most obvious section of my tie. There, in the middle of some elegant eatery, my steel-gray blue tie – the pride of my closet – lost its innocence.
As tie after tie met its fate in similar confines, I mobilized the darker members of my tie collection. Against my normal tendencies, those undistinguished but stain-resistant ties became a more frequent article of my everyday wardrobe. I shied away from easily stained lighted colors to ties with little things on them (like the Davenport Crest or Buffaloes).
I could only take so much of these somber materials and slowly entered the world of more unique ties. Taking a cue from Washington bureaucrats, I employed the color maroon as my first step. Maroon turned to dark red, then bright red, then a comforting pink with little speckles of color conservatively placed over the body of the tie.
I ventured back into the world of vividness with green and lilac. Content with the fact few, if any, wore these colors, I dressed this way routinely.
Then it hit. A splish there. A splash there. The cleaners could not keep up with the spots on my ties. This unfortunate waste continued even as my desire to wear unconventional ties intensified to an almost addicting level. I knew it would eventually come down to an act of desperation. One morning, anxious to sport some color, I tried on three different ties. Each one had a glaring spot. I grew despondent.
Suddenly, in a flash of obsessed brilliance, I turned the rack to a hidden tie. Beneath my more recent affectations cried out a hint of yellow. I wrestled momentarily with my vow of years ago. “By now, nearly every color of the spectrum had been proclaimed a ‘power tie,’” I rationalized.
Easy to convince, I hurriedly grabbed the limp yellow silk, closed my eyes, and wrapped the ornament around my hungry neck. The knot having been secured, I peered into the mirror. After five long years, the tie looked just as immaculate as it did the last time I wore it. I smiled.
Later that day during an especially soupy plate of spaghetti, I sauced the tie.
Which brings us back to the point. Good ties are hard to find and even harder to keep clean. There is a little known corollary to Murphy’s law: “It you drop a piece of buttered bread, the buttered side will always land on your favorite tie.”
How, then, can the maverick pronounce his individualism in the business world? Have faith, I wore my first bow-tie in January (and yes, it wasn’t a clip-on).
Last Week #11: Excelsior!!! (originally published June 1, 1989)
Next Week #13: Chaos and Opportunity on Capitol Hill (originally published June 15, 1989)
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]